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Ledyard’s first full-time children’s librarian retiring after 30 years

What’s the secret to being a successful children’s librarian?

“You’ve got to have a crazy bone,” according to Nancy Brewer. “With doing all storytimes and things like that, you have to be really creative and fun-loving and do all kinds of things.”

She retires at the end of the year after 30 years as Ledyard’s first full-time children’s librarian.

Speaking from her desk at Bill Library in front of a bulletin board full of props from previous programs, including a sun hat decorated with plastic bugs, Brewer said she first started at the circulation desk in 1988. A lifelong lover of books, she had applied to that job after volunteering in the library at Ledyard Center School, where her kids were in school.

“The children’s librarian at the time was only part-time, and I started helping her with infant and toddler storytime, and I realized how much I loved working with kids and books,” she said. “When the children’s librarian’s job opened up as a full-time job in 1989, I applied and I got it, and I have been growing with the job ever since.”

Brewer said there’s no average day for her, but in a given month, she does 20 preschool visits and 16 library storytimes, in addition to other librarian duties such as evaluating the children’s section’s book selection, ordering new materials, and staying up to date on industry news.

The storytimes are her favorite part of her job because she can get kids excited about reading. When she does preschool visits, she talks with the teachers ahead of time to see what topics they’re discussing; otherwise, she’ll pick books that relate to the season, holiday or other observance, like fire safety month in October.

An integral part of storytime is Timmy the squirrel, a puppet who accessorizes based on the book selection and was dressed up in his Christmas best during an interview. Brewer said she uses Timmy to introduce the storytime programs to kids, and if he isn’t there, they always ask where he is.

Even without Timmy, she said she’s known well enough in town that the library’s youngest patrons see her as a resource.

“I have so many children I see in both storytimes and preschools that they’re very comfortable coming into a library and talking to me and asking questions, so in that sense I think it’s been very good to have a certain notoriety,” she said.

Brewer said keeping up with kids’ constantly changing interests has been a challenge, especially with how quickly Internet fads and memes come and go. She also felt that kids’ attention spans are shorter now than when she started, leading her to incorporate more props and puppets into her storytime sessions and selecting shorter books to read.

Despite that, she said her younger coworkers have been helpful with the changes and trends on the technology side, including a new monthly club that uses small robots called Ozobots to teach coding skills to kids. The staff camaraderie on the whole, including support from library director Gale Bradbury, made for a great experience despite budget cuts from the town.

“She is very enthusiastic and does a phenomenal job with the preschool children,” Bradbury said, noting that Brewer has prepared hundreds of children for school through her library programs. When Brewer started, the library had just gotten a grant for infant and toddler storytimes, and she championed that program, including using a video camera funded by the grant to record storytime sessions for parents.

She said Brewer also immerses herself into the summer reading program by visiting elementary school classrooms in costume, which she designs annually to match that year’s theme. The aforementioned bug hat was from a summer reading program a few years ago, and other outfits include the Statue of Liberty and an ensemble patterned with stars and galaxies for last year’s “A Universe of Stories” theme.

“We’re going to miss seeing her annual costumes,” Bradbury said.

After she leaves, Brewer said she and her husband have plans for an Alaskan cruise once the weather warms up, and she’s been looking into reading for children’s audiobooks.

“I love listening to books on CD. I have them in my car all the time, and I think it’s great having kids’ books like that, too, where kids can be riding in a car and listening to a great story,” she said, adding that she had gone to a voice acting workshop. “I just think that would be really awesome.”

Nevertheless, she said her upcoming retirement has been “gut-wrenching” because she’s leaving a job she loves.

“We live here in town, and it just was a great fit for me,” she said. “I felt very fulfilled, I loved the creativity I was able to express, and of course being able to connect kids with books, what could be better?”

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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